Pesto Pasta Salad with Fresh Mozzarella, Tomatoes, and Pine Nuts

This pesto pasta salad is packed with classic Italian-inspired flavors. It is ideal for parties, get-togethers, and easy leftover dinners. It mixes fusilli pasta with homemade pesto, pine nuts, both fresh and sun-dried tomatoes, lemon, and fresh mozzarella for a bowl brimming with rich, fresh, and earthy flavors. Enjoy it by the spoonful, and add grilled chicken for a meat alternative.

Pesto pasta salad in a large serving bowl.

Get Your Ingredients Together

To get started with this pesto pasta salad recipe, you’ll need to get the following ingredients:

Ingredients board with all the ingredients for the recipe in separate bowls.
  • Fusilli Pasta – 1 lb fusilli pasta
  • Tomatoes – 10 oz baby tomatoes (or sweet/cherry tomatoes) (280 grams)
  • Sun-Dried Tomatoes – 1/2 cup (packed) sun-dried tomatoes
  • Mozzarella – 12 oz fresh mozzarella balls (340 grams)
  • Pine Nuts – 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
  • Lemon – zest from one lemon and 1 tbsp of fresh lemon juice
  • Pesto – 1 1/4 cup fresh basil pesto (see below for how to make homemade pesto and the ingredients you need)
  • Salt, to taste (for the salad), plus more to salt the water for boiling the pasta
  • Black Pepper, to taste

Ingredient Notes:

Fusilli Pasta – Fusilli is the best option for this recipe as the pesto adheres easily to the grooves. Substitutes you could use include rotini (which has a similar shape), farfalle (bow-tie), and cavatappi (spiral-shaped).

Making the pesto – Making the pesto at home is so easy! I’ve done this pesto recipe in a separate post as I tend to add pesto to a lot of my recipes. You just need basil, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add the basil leaves, toasted pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, salt, and pepper to a food processor or blender and process it until everything is finely minced. Then, drizzle in the olive oil while processing it/blending it further. See the detailed step-by-step for making the pesto in this post.

Making the fresh pesto at home.

Recipe Step-by-Step Instructions (with Photos)

Step 1. To a large pot of salted boiling water, add the pasta. Boil the pasta for the time indicated on the package plus one minute. When pasta is served cold, it’s a bit tougher so cooking it a bit longer (by 1-2 minutes) is recommended for pasta salads. Drain and reserve about 2 tablespoons of pasta water.

Boiling the pasta in a large pot.
Draining the pasta.

Step 2. Toss the cooked and drained pasta with half the pesto and the reserved 2 tablespoons of pasta water. The pasta will absorb the pesto better when warm. Then, set it aside to cool down.

Tossing the pasta with half of the pesto in a large bowl.

Step 3. Prep all the ingredients for the salad.

Salad ingredients ready to be tossed together.
  • Cut the baby tomatoes in half.
  • Chop the sun-dried tomatoes roughly.
  • Cut the mozzarella in bite-sized pieces or if you’re using small mozzarella balls, cut them in half.
  • Zest the lemon and squeeze 1 tbsp of fresh lemon juice.
  • Toast the pine nuts and set them aside to cool down. To toast them, simply put them in a dry pan over medium-low heat, moving them around in the pan for a few minutes until they get some color on them.

Step 4. Once the pasta has cooled down, toss all the ingredients together: the pesto pasta, halved baby tomatoes, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, bite-sized mozzarella pieces, toasted (and cooled) pine nuts, the remaining pesto, lemon zest, and lemon juice.

Note that if you don’t wait for the pasta to cool down, the mozzarella will melt slightly.

All the salad ingredients in a large bowl (before combining them).

Step 5. Taste the pasta salad and add salt and pepper (to taste). I used 1/2 tsp of sea salt flakes (Maldon) and 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper. You can use kosher salt instead of sea salt flakes. If using regular salt, use half the amount of kosher salt or sea salt flakes.

The pesto pasta salad ready in the serving bowl.

Serve it in Style

Get yourself a big serving bowl and tip all of the pasta salad into it from your mixing bowl. You can then put this in the middle of the dinner table and let everyone help themselves.

Pesto pasta salad with tomatoes and mozzarella on top.

Serve the bowl with a large serving spoon, and you’re good to go!

Serving the pasta salad in a white serving bowl.

Some Pairing Ideas

Gotta pull out all the stops for a big party or celebration? Try some of these crostinis to go with the pasta salad, and add more appetizers, like these fried artichokes, to the spread for plenty of choice.

Want some more pasta salad options? This Greek-inspired pasta salad has feta, tomatoes, olives, and plenty more Mediterranean flavor.

What I love most about pasta salad is that it’s classic family-style dining, bringing everyone together to eat, be merry, and celebrate. If you made this and enjoyed it, please leave a review below. And I’d love to know what other sides and dishes you served with it.

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Pesto Pasta Salad

Print Pin Rate
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Additional Time: 15 minutes
Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 1 lb fusilli pasta
  • 10 oz baby tomatoes or sweet/cherry tomatoes (280 grams)
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes
  • 12 oz fresh mozzarella balls 340 grams
  • 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
  • zest from one lemon
  • 1 tbsp of fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 cup fresh basil pesto see the notes for how to make homemade pesto and the ingredients you need
  • salt to taste (for the salad), plus more to salt the water for boiling the pasta
  • black pepper to taste

Instructions

Boil the pasta.

  • To a large pot of salted boiling water, add the pasta. Boil the pasta for the time indicated on the package plus one minute. When pasta is served cold, it’s a bit tougher so cooking it a bit longer (by 1-2 minutes) is recommended for pasta salads. Drain and reserve about 2 tablespoons of pasta water.

Toss the pasta with half the pesto.

  • Toss the cooked and drained pasta with half the pesto and the reserved 2 tablespoons of pasta water. The pasta will absorb the pesto better when warm. Then, set it aside to cool down.

Prep all the ingredients for the salad.

  • Cut the baby tomatoes in half.
  • Chop the sun-dried tomatoes roughly.
  • Cut the mozzarella in bite-sized pieces or if you’re using small mozzarella balls, cut them in half.
  • Zest the lemon and squeeze 1 tbsp of fresh lemon juice.
  • Toast the pine nuts and set them aside to cool down. To toast them, simply put them in a dry pan over medium-low heat, moving them around in the pan for a few minutes until they get some color on them.

Toss all the salad ingredients together once the pasta has cooled.

  • Once the pasta has cooled down, toss all the ingredients together: the pesto pasta, halved baby tomatoes, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, bite-sized mozzarella pieces, toasted (and cooled) pine nuts, the remaining pesto, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Note that if you don’t wait for the pasta to cool down, the mozzarella will melt slightly.

Adjust seasoning as needed.

  • Taste the pasta salad and add salt and pepper (to taste). I used 1/2 tsp of sea salt flakes (Maldon) and 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper. You can use kosher salt instead of sea salt flakes. If using regular salt, use half the amount of kosher salt or sea salt flakes.

Notes

Note 1: Fusilli is the best option for this recipe as the pesto adheres easily to the grooves. Substitutes you could use include rotini and farfalle.
Note 2: Making homemade pesto: see the separate recipe for step-by-step with photos for how to make fresh basil pesto. You’ll need:
  • 2 cups (packed) of fresh basil leaves (about 4.2oz or 120 grams),
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts,
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil,
  • 1/2 cup freshly-grated Parmigiano Reggiano,
  • a pinch of kosher salt, and
  • a pinch of black pepper.
Add the basil leaves, toasted pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, salt, and pepper to a food processor or blender and process it until everything is finely minced. Then, drizzle in the olive oil while processing it/blending it further.

Oh, and don’t forget to save this recipe to your summer or party planning boards, ready for when it’s time to go shopping for ingredients.

Pesto pasta salad pin showing the pasta salad in a large serving bowl.

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